Nick Carr on April 22, 2020 0 Comments Helles Bock, also known as Maibock, should be considered the official Spring seasonal. After all, Maibock translates as “May” bock; meaning this beer was brewed in the winter then lagered until early spring. It’s a lighter color, slightly hoppier, though still malty member of the bock family. Helles Bock carries notes of rich bread along with slight toastiness, but doesn’t have the utter depth of malt that a Doppelbock or even a Dunkles (traditional) bock carries. If you want to give this style a shot and lager it for next spring — or alternatively pull it out for a Fall seasonal — then hopefully this run-through of the brewing process can be of some help. The first thing I’d suggest is getting your hands on a few good examples of both the Heller bock (Maibock) style and Traditional bock (Dunkles bock) style. Drink them. Dissect them. Compare them. Learn the difference. This way you’ll have something to compare your attempts to, keeping in mind this style is hard to get spot on. One of the biggest problems in getting a Helles Bock right is going too big on the malt presence and basically turning it into a Dunkles Bock. Yes, it’s a malty style, but it’s subtler in its malt presentation than the Dunkles Bock. Grain Bill Base Malts: The base malts for a Helles Bock are simple, on the surface. Usually, the whole grain bill will be made up of Pilsner, Light Munich, and possibly a little Vienna. Either alone or in some combination. It sounds simple, but teasing a complex and interesting profile, carrying all the signatures expected of it, can end up being a game in experimentation. A good starting point is making at least half, if not more, of the bill high-quality German pilsner malt. From here you could simply make the rest a light Munich and be done. This actually isn’t a bad place to start if this is your first time trying to brew the style. Specialty Malts: Specialty malts only have a small place in the style if used at all. Though crystal and caramel malts are often used in other bock styles, here they should be avoided if at all possible. It’s too easy to get flavors inappropriate for the style (i.e. caramel sweetness). If for some reason you just can’t help yourself, go with the lightest types you can find, such as CaraHelles, and use them very sparingly. Small amounts of darker Munich can work as can low amounts of aromatic malt, but it’s important to note that these are really unnecessary additions. If you do decide to add specialty malt keep the dark Munich below 10% and the aromatic below 3 percent. Extract Brewing If extract brewing you’ll almost be forced to do a partial mash to get the right malt complexity. For your base find a high-quality German Pilsner extract along with Vienna and/or Munich extract. Again, the quantity you use is going to be up to your discretion, but it can be divided up much as the whole-grain. Half to 75% pilsner and Munich and/or Vienna making up the rest. Do a partial mash with the Munich and/or Vienna. You may even want to add a small amount of one specialty malt here but use a light hand. Hops Hops are pretty straightforward in this style. Helles Bock has a bit more of a hop presence than other bock styles, but it’s subtle. You’re looking at IBUs of between 23 and 35. The aroma and flavor will be a low medium to none at all. Hops are often added as a single addition at 60 minutes. But if you’d like a little more flavor, you can add a second small addition about 15 minutes before the end. Keep this second addition to under half an ounce for a 5-gallon batch. Dry hopping is never used in the style. Traditionally, noble hops such as Hallertauer, Spalt, or Tettnager, are used for the style. At the very least you’ll want to use noble or noble-type hops in any late additions so that you get some “noble” aromas. VARIETIES TO CONSIDER Hallertauer Tettanger Sterling Magnum Spalt Galena Perle Mt. Hood Use the Magnum or Galena if you’re looking for a hop with a bit more of a bitter bite. Their neutral profiles won’t out-stage any noble character and because they have higher alpha acid you’ll use less of them than if you bittered with a noble variety. The Mash and Sparge If you look around the net a bit you’ll find every brewer has their own opinion on how best to mash a Helles Bock. Some hold to the tradition of decoction mashing, others say the same can be had with a step mash, while others will say that a single step infusion works just fine. From a practical aspect, you really only need a decoction mash if you’re using a lot of under modified pilsner malt in the recipe. A step mash can take the place of decoction mashing as far as fermentability goes, but you may lose some malt complexity. A single step infusion mash can work okay if you’re using well-modified modern malts. But I have to say I’m not the most practical brewer around and I have a tendency to follow tradition when I can. A decoction mash was traditionally used for this style and it’s worth considering, even though it involves some extra work. A decoction mash will help attenuation, create body, and drive malt complexity by creating Maillard products. If you want to take the plunge and do a decoction mash I’ve got a couple of quick tips. You don’t have to do the full triple decoction, a double works fine, even a single would be better than nothing if you’re feeling lazy. Also, because this is a lighter beer, shorten your decoction boils to only about 10 minutes apiece. On the other hand, if you’ve designed a recipe that makes use of Vienna malt as the primary base grain, then a single infusion would probably get you there. Shoot for a saccharification temperature range between 152 and 154oF and hold until conversion is complete, usually 45 to 60 minutes. Once complete, mash out and sparge with 170oF, collecting enough pre-boil volume for a 90-minute boil. Boil A 90-minute boil is most common here because of the use of pilsner malt. Pilsner malt carries more SMM (S-methyl methionine), which is the precursor to DMS (dimethyl sulfide). Boiling helps drive DMS as it forms. A little DMS in this style is okay, highlighting its lager character, but if it’s too high you’ll have a “cooked corn” or even “cabbage” like aroma. Add your hop bittering addition 60 minutes before flameout. If adding a second flavor addition, drop it in at the appropriate time, usually around 15 minutes before flameout. Yeast For yeast, you’ll want a strain that doesn’t produce large amounts of sulfur and contributes to a malty profile. Check the German strains before you settle on something less traditional. A few ideas are listed below: WHITE LABS WYEAST DRY ORGANIC German Bock Lager (WLP833) Hella Bock Lager (2487-PC) Saflager (W34/70) Imperial Yeast- Harvest (L17) German X Lager (WLP835) Munich Lager (2308) Mangrove Jack’s Bavarian Lager (M76) Fermentation, Lagering, and Bottling Once the boil is complete, cool the wort down to a pitching temperature of 50oF as fast as you can. Aerate the wort thoroughly before pitching your yeast. The lower temperatures used to ferment lagers means the yeast is more stressed, which means a higher pitch rate of healthy yeast is needed. An average of about twice as much yeast is pitched for a lager compared to an ale. If we use the generally accepted pitching rate of .75 million cells for an ale, it would mean we need about 1.5 million cells for a lager. You can find plenty of online pitch rate calculators to figure this out, but the short answer for a 5-gallon batch is: even if you are brewing an example at the low end of the SG range, you’d be looking at either pitching 4 or 5 liquid packs or building up an appropriate starter. If using dry yeast, it’d be about two 11.5 gram packets. Keep the temperature around 50oF for the length of the fermentation. If you think it’s necessary or the yeast instructions suggest it, you can do a diacetyl rest by letting the temperature rise a few degrees during the last 2 or 3 days before fermentation is complete. Once fermentation has finished it’s time to face the long impatience of lagering. Traditionally this style is lagering at around 30oF for anywhere from 2 to 6 months. That seems like forever, but it’s worth it. If you can’t see your way clear of even a couple months at least try to make it a minimum of 4 weeks. Best just to get it lagering and forget about it. Move on to the next brew, or it’ll be a painful few months!